08:53 GMT +321 April 2018
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    In this May 4, 2017, file photo, the U.S. flag flies in front of the Capitol dome on Capitol Hill in Washington

    Trump’s Budget Proposal ‘Weakens the Country Long Term’ - Expert

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    US President Donald Trump has submitted a $4.4 trillion proposal to the US Congress that envisages increased defense spending, reduced diplomatic spending and cutting funding for healthcare. Radio Sputnik contacted Michael O'Hanlon from the Brookings Institution to discuss the proposal.

    The multi-trillion-dollar plan includes $688 billion in military funds — a 13 percent increase over the previous year.

    In a letter addressed to Congress accompanying the proposal, Trump said, "the Budget reflects our commitment to the safety, prosperity and security of the American people." The proposal said the National Defense Strategy prioritizes reversing the erosion of the US military advantage in relation to China and Russia.

    Radio Sputnik: Tell me what you think about this new budget proposal that Trump has put forward. How does it fit in with his America First concept and do you think that Congress will support this particular budget?

    Michael O'Hanlon: On the part of Congress, yes I do, because, as you know, Congress is primarily controlled by the Republicans — the same party as Mr. Trump — and they do have some disagreements with each other, but not so much on this kind of question. There are lots of people in Congress who still have doubts whether Mr. Trump should be president of the US, even within the Republican party; but on issues of budgetary priorities, I believe that the Republicans have pretty much common ground. And they don't need much Democratic help on some these things.

    But, Trump is a little extreme even for some people in Congress, so I think Congress will smooth the edges here: for example, not cut foreign aid quite as deeply or perhaps protect the environmental programs a little more than President Trump would do. I think there will be a bit of change on Capitol Hill.

    The other problem is that we spend far beyond our means. We spend more than we raise in revenue, so we have a huge federal deficit, which I think does not make America great again: it weakens the country long term. This is a big problem with this budget.

    Radio Sputnik: We also have the issue of tax cuts. Where is the money going to come from? Some have accused Trump of saying that the whole reason he put forward that tax plan that got passed was to start axing away at entitlement programs.

    Michael O'Hanlon: I do think there are politics involved in the tax cut. But I don't think it's so much about cutting entitlements, because at least most of the entitlements are not being cut. Some of them that focus on poverty issues — you're right, they are. I think there is some truth to what you say, and I regret it, because these programs aim to help poor or sick people: health care programs, food stamps, that kind of thing. I hope that Congress will push back against some of that.

    But again, because Trump cut taxes, therefore he needs to look for some kind of spending reduction to prevent the deficit from completely blowing up.

    Radio Sputnik: Do you think that Social Security and Medicare will also get the ax?

    Michael O'Hanlon: No, I don't think that they will get the ax, because the politics of doing that are very, very unappealing for either party.  There are a lot of middle-class voters who go to the polls more often, who vote more frequently, and they want these programs retained. Tragically, the programs that will get the cut involve the poorer class as opposed to the middle class.

    Radio Sputnik: The proposal also allocates additional missile defense systems for Poland, Romania and Ukraine. How do you think this will impact relations between Moscow and Washington?

    Michael O'Hanlon: As you know, relations are poor now, and Russia is concerned about missile defense. My own view — and I realize that not all your listeners will agree — my own view is that Russia worries too much about American missile defense. I think there are some legitimate disagreements the two countries have on a number of issues, but I think we make too much out of the missile defense. The system we are building is small — it's not that capable, frankly. As an American, I worry more about the system's limitations than its destabilizing attributes.

    There is some diplomatic fighting between Russia and the US that is somewhat artificial and somewhat disengaged from reality. I actually support these [missile] defenses: I think we can do more to reassure Russia, but I don't see the system's capabilities as all that impressive — and certainly not as a match to Russia's arsenal.

    Radio Sputnik: What about the US military receiving over $1 billion in funds to train and equip the Syrian opposition? How do you think this paints the picture of US plans in Syria going forward?

    Michael O'Hanlon: I think what we need to do, given that President [Bashar] al-Assad is not going to leave office — he was not going to leave office ever, and certainly after Russian intervention this has become implausible — we are going to have to work towards some kind of system where parts of the country are governed more autonomously, maybe like several Swiss-like cantons, small little areas of self-governance that will temporarily get around this issue whether Assad is in power or not — Sunni Arab areas or Kurdish areas. Given what these groups have suffered, I don't think it's realistic to ask them to live under Assad's direct rule any longer. I criticize both Russia and the US for our policies toward Syria and I think Russia facilitated some of this — and we wandered about for six years, failing to have a good strategy to end a war.

    I think the only realistic compromise now is some degree of self-governance in these areas and this requires some money for police forces, for economic reconstruction and so forth. Meanwhile Assad's based in office, at least temporarily, in Damascus, but does not control more distant parts of the country. I think it's the only realistic compromise.

    The opinions expressed are those of speaker alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of Sputnik News.

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    tax cuts, budget, Congress, Donald Trump, United States
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